Monday, July 27, 2009

Holiday Pay for Doctors (Professors?)

Three years ago (March 2006) the Court of First Instance ruled that doctors could not ask to be paid for working overtime, but should be paid for working on holidays and rest days. The Hospital Authority has since paid 4,600 doctors a total of HK$629 million dollars. But more than 400 university-employed doctors were not covered in that settlement. These doctors are now pressing the university of Hong Kong and the Chinese University for compensation. Apparently, HKU does not disput that. It claims, however, that it does not know where the money should come from. (SCMP, Monday, 27th July, 2009)

What, then, about professors who work on holidays and rest days? Professors give lectures, lead tutorials, advice students, carry out research, attend meetings, participate in retreats, join unversity-wide functions, greet applicants on information days, travel to recruit students, set up collaborations, take students on exchange and service learning trips, etc. - on holidays and rest days. Shouldn’t professors be reimbursed for such work as well?

I am not saying that professors should be reimbursed for work done on holidays and rest days. I consider that part of the job as long as the amount is not excessive. However, if university-employed doctors should be reimbursed for such activities, shouldn’t other university-employed academics be treated similarly?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Real-Life Black Smith

We know who a black smith is. But have we seen a black smith at work? Do they even exist anymore?

We were taking a walk through the little town Changkou in Gansu early in the morning in June, and I heard someone banging something. There, on the side of the street was a blacksmith setting up work. He had coal burning in a hearth, tongs, box bellows, hammers, anvil, bars of metal, ...

Pulling on the handle of the box bellows sucks air into the bellows; pushing it in forces air onto the coal, making the coal burn stronger, raising the temperature, softening the metal for shaping, ...

He does not look like a modern day artist trying to revive or conserve an ancient art. But a real-life black smith trying to make a living making or fixing small tools for local farmers. Fascinating. I wonder for how long can he survive in this world. He looks old enough. When he passes away, will there be a younger one to take his place? Will there still be demand for his skills? I doubt it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tai O

Tai O is really quite an interesting place. Where else in Hong Kong can you live in houses built on stilts, having a front door opening onto the street and the back door looking out to the ocean? Or alternatively, looking out to green mountains over water?

Hulus? Dragon boats? Crabs running all over the place? The ubiquitous salted fish?

Ms. Wong, who is not a native, but lived in Tai O for 50 years, wrote a lively book about the place. She also rented a house and stuffed it with all kinds of memory-evoking stuff: tea pots, bowls, chopping boards, cupboards, baby chairs, kerosene lamps, slippers, ... She, and other well-meaning people, have been trying to preserve and promote the rather unique way of living over there.

It makes one wonder what, if anything, the government is doing. Perhaps it is better this way. Because when the government dabbles in conservation, it has a habit of making real living history look stale, faked, or worse. Just witness what has happened to the former marine police headquarters compound in TsimShaTsui. It is totally unrecognizable now, even though a few of the big old trees has been “preserved”.

I hope the government does not try to build a new-and-improved version of stilted houses on the water, and end up destroying the existing neighbourhoods in the process. I hope it does not rebuild a new Tai O and make it so expensive that the current residents are driven out because they cannot afford to live there. Because that is what happened to so many old districts that has been "re-developed" by the government all over Hong Kong.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Big Mouth Fish (大口魚)

What is it? It is not a shark. But a Big Mouth Fish (大口魚). It is actually cod, I believe.

The head was split down the middle, flattened, and dried. They are supposed to be good for "reducing the heat" (清熱降火). In Tai O, they are selling for HK$69 per catty.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was an interesting man. He was the emperor of the Roman Empire for almost 20 years. Yet he spent most of the 20 years outside of Rome, fighting the barbarians in central and south-eastern Europe. While he was busy ruling and defending the empire, he wrote a journal, admonishing himself on self-mastery and self-improvement. The journal became the book “Meditations”. He wrote more like a philosopher than a general or emperor. There are few, if any, leaders like him throughout history.

He said of his belief in the gods:“... have not seen my own soul either, and yet I honour it. So it is with the gods too: from my every experience of their power time after time I am certain that they exist, and I revere them.”

Reasons that he should not be affected by other people: If people are wrong, it is clearly out of ignorance and not their wish. You yourself have many faults. Many things are done as part of a larger plan. Human life is a mere fragment of time. It is not their actions which trouble us - but our judgements of them. The greater grief comes from the consequent anger and pain, rather than the original cause. Kindness is invincible. It is madness to expect bad men to do no wrong.

He is really a wise man and a good model. He reminds me of mountains like the HuaShan. It is so big, solid and self-sufficient that it is unmovable. There is little that other people can do to shake it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

My friend S gave me a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. In the book he quoted Socrates, ‘to avoid dying the worst of deaths’ - that is, the inability to return in kind benefits received.

It reminded me of a discussion with my students the importance of the existence of God. Some of the students did not think the existence of God is very important for them. I think otherwise.

If there is no God, then surely it would be foolish to pretend that there is. However, if God does exist, and if Jesus did sacrifice Himself for us, then it would be extreme ungrateful of us to ignore Him, wouldn’t it? A person with honour will want to return any favours. Surely we have to show our gratitude towards He who gave us our lives, and who loved us so much that He died for our sins?

It is not something that we can simply ignore. We have to answer that question: Does God exist?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Capriciousness of life

I looked out my window early evening on 4th July, and saw some flashing lights. Looking closer, there seemed to be some fire-engines, police vehicles and ambulances around the bus station outside the Hung Hom Train Station. Even closer, there appeared to be some firemen crowding the side of a bus. It was most likely someone was hurt in an accident involving the bus. Perhaps that someone was still under the bus. I shuddered to think what might have happened to the person.

Only later did I find out that a woman was knocked down and run over by one of the wheels of the bus. The thought was too painful to bear. I could not find out whether the woman survived.

One moment the women was full of life, hurrying somewhere, perhaps running for a bus. A moment later, she was badly injured, fighting for her life. Sometimes it is not as dramatic. A person can be very active and busy simply living. Suddenly he is told that he has late-stage cancer. In both cases one fights desperately to stay alive. At the same time, one is bound to ask oneself: I am going to die very soon, perhaps I shouldn’t have lived my life this way?

Most of us, particularly when we are young, are inclined to think that we will live a long time. That we have plenty of time to just enjoy life, and still have enough time left to do what is important - later. But we don’t always have that luxury, do we?

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Hong Kong loves concrete and hates nature. Otherwise, why would we do this to our trees? It seems we don’t grow trees. Instead, we do what we can to torture and kill them. Trees grow in Hong Kong despite what we do to them. Shame on us!

On the other hand, their tenacity is precisely what we need, in order to stand up to the adversities we are faced with. That’s what my uncle CH needs now, in order to fight his cancer. We read him passages from the Bible and pray with him yesterday. May God be with him and make him as tenacious as those T-trees - with T for tenacity.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pain and hope

Several years ago my aunt passed away after a fairly long struggle with cancer. She was a people person, very energetic, helpful, and tough. But towards the end of her illness, she was reduced to a skeleton and bed-ridden in a hospital. I went to see her several times, read the Bible to her, and explained to her what faith is about. She liked my reading the Bible to her and eventually put her faith in God a short while before she passed away.

I was surprised by how bad I felt. When I realized that she had left the world, it felt much more than sadness. Feelings such as sadness are supposed to be mental processes. Yet I felt so bad that it was physically painful. I was reasonably fit, having been running weekly and playing other sports fairly regularly. But it felt like a heavy weight was placed on my chest. I have since learned that mental processes and physical sensations can trigger the same circuitry in the brain. So it is possible that extreme sadness can have similar effects on the body as physical pain. Eventually the hope that I will see my aunt again gave me some comfort.

Last week my uncle started chemotherapy for cancer.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

HuaShan (華山)

Hua Shan is about 2 hours away from Xian. We are at the foot of the mountain, looking up. 華山的山腳。

有兩個方法上山。 一是吊車, 二是走樓梯。 It is about 4,000 steps from the lower cable car station at the foot of the mountain to the upper station up the mountain. The upper station is quite close to the Northern Peak, the lowest of the four peaks. We took the cable car because we did not have enough time. Partly, it was also because of my vertigo. I should be able to make it up, when I do not have to look downward. But I am not so sure about coming down.

There are still thousands of steps to climb, even from the upper cable car station. Much of the supplies are carried up the mountain, on the shoulders of labourers. I don’t think I can do what they do.

The Dragon’s Back. We climbed half way up (the left side of the photo), but have to turn back before getting to the top for fear of missing the last cable car ride down the mountain.

Looking down from half way up the Dragon's Back. The lowest of the peaks, the Northern Peak, is in the middle of the photo.

The Northern Peak, the lowest and easiest to get to.

The Dragon's Back, from a distance.

The mountains are really really striking.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sheep of Gansu

The varying shades of green makes the evening walk outside the school after dinner really enjoyable.

We encountered flocks of sheep. It is actually illegal to let your sheep graze the grass on the roadside. Hence the shepherd was a bit apprehensive when we started taking photographs. But we assured him that we were visitors from the south; and found them interesting because we didn't often see sheep.

They are raised for meat rather than fur. Each takes about 8 months to be ready for the market and fletches about 400 RMB. They seemed oblivious of me until about 2 feet away. Encountering an unmovable object (me), they simply turned the other direction.

The year-old ram eyed me suspiciously.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A common orphan story

A woman marries a man on a farm. She gives birth to a daughter. The man dies. The mother remarries. She refuses to take the girl with her. The girl is left in the care of the grandfather. The grandfather is old and in poor health. There are aunts and uncles but they can hardly take care of her because they have families of their own. The girl attends school sporadically and performs poorly. She is at least two grades behind kids of her age. What kind of prospect does she have in life?

Orphan story - The girl with an easy smile

A man picked up an abandoned girl and raised her as his own. The man is a Han but the girl has Caucasian features. The girl is now 10 years old, has rosy cheeks, big rounded eyes, and a high nose. She is shy but smiles easily, and often. Very pretty and pleasant.

When we visited her, at around 11 am in the morning, we were surprised to see a man sleeping on the kang. We were told the man is a brother of the girl’s adoptive father; and that he is deaf but healthy otherwise. We thought we heard it wrong initially, but apparently she sleeps in the same bed with the man.

There was a woman around, whom we thought to be the father’s wife. It turned out she was married to another man, who had subsequently died. She is now living together with the adoptive father but they are not officially married. Complicated, isn’t it?

We noted that the father did not speak a lot with the girl. And when he did, he spoke to her rather harshly. The girl did not say anything to the father while we were there. Neither did she make any attempt to approach or touch the father.

The charity felt that the girl would be better off in the orphanage. But the father was reluctant to let her go, saying that the place would be quiet if she were to leave. In that case, there may not be much that can be done - although the situation does not look ideal for the girl.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Orphan story - The girl that does not smile

A man is so poor he cannot afford to get married. He picks up a baby abandoned at the train station (a popular place to drop off unwanted children). He treats her (it is always a her, never a him) as his own, and never told her the truth. The man can only find odd, temporary jobs because he is uneducated. The man suffers from bad health. Eventually the man dies from some disease or traffic accident (a common cause of death these days). The girl is now living with her adoptive grandma. Grandma has a poor leg and poor health. They live on rubbish picked up from the street, and the low income subsidy from the government (about 100 RMB a month). The only furniture they have were donated by the girl’s teachers. The charity wants to accept the girl at the orphanage but the grandma is reluctant to let her go.

The girl is understandably shy. But she appears to be more sad than shy, and did not smile at all throughout the half hour visit. When the visitors left, she followed them all the way to the entrance to the village, as if she did not want them to go. All the while, she did not smile, not even once.

I know, because I met the girl.

Let GOD take vengeance

It is frightening and worrying to see the ethnic dimension of the problems in Xinjiang. Ethnic conflicts have a tendency to spiral out of control. You hurt one of us? - We will kill one of you. You killed one of us? - We will kill two of you. ... Hatred feeds on itself, and ends up hurting the hater more than the hated. Please stop before it goes too far. Let God judge and take vengeance. Not us. Please.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Remote Online Teaching

Our work with the Jubilee Care Primary School in Gansu did not end when we left 10 days ago. Among other things, we set up a video conferencing system between Jubilee and our university; and we have started a weekly online class with the school. Today we ran the third such class, teaching primary 2 English. It is wonderful seeing the kids again, and watching them learn enthusiastically. Equally gratifying to see our own students putting their hearts into it. We are still experimenting with camera positions, lighting, speech patterns, etc. Once we sort out how best to run these classes, we plan to get other Hong Kong teachers and schools involved from this side.

We are also working out a one-year curriculum for the computer and information technology subject for the school. Lots of exciting work to be done. Much of which can be useful references for other schools in similar situations - and there are lots of them in mainland China. We can only do so much ourselves, restricted by time, funding, manpower, etc. But we are determined to do as much as we can, and to share our experences. God as been gracious to us, and it is our privilege to be able to share some of the blessing we have received.